The best, truest, and most bleak line I’ve heard from a mega-successful company founder was Dave Becker telling me: “we have all had the sleepless nights, when it’s 2am and you’re staring at the ceiling.” Dave is the founder of a number of companies including First Internet Bancorp (Nasdaq: INBK), the granddaddy of online banking.
From the outside, we see a successful entrepreneur with multiple home runs and think they must be sitting on easy street. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer is: everything. It always appears easy or obvious once a company has made it, but what we often don’t hear about are the trials and tribulations that happen at every stage of a company’s growth from young and unknown, to in between, and then big and ambitious. The sleepless nights. The questions of can you make payroll. The we-almost-went-bankrupt moments. This is real and it’s no surprise that many of our inquiries for help from owners show up in our inbox after the 9-5 employees have gone home.
I was having a conversation with company founders in a healthcare startup who made the comment: “we’re new to being entrepreneurs.”
That was their opening for free advice. It’s hard building and scaling a business when most startups fail or have a tough time and that’s not celebrated enough. Instead we just marvel at the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and aspire to be like Uber, Facebook, Google.
The truth is that most every new businesses – it’s a slog. A grind. A tough battle at some point in their existence, if not in fact for many years. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft had a phrase for this: the long middle. He said its fairly easy to be creative, think up a brilliant new product, and decide to charge forward. Then comes the middle: the long slog.
How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.
These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.
In a recent interview with The Philippe Matthews Show, Association of Interim Executives Chairman, Richard Lindenmuth sheds light on the most important component of any company in transition: its people. Lindenmuth, who has been an Interim CEO in a number of industries ranging from high technology to services shows how to gain people’s respect, trust, and engagement.
Interim executives are becoming a popular alternative to using a consultant or leaving a position vacant while a search for the right person is conducted. An interim executive also brings a fresh, unbiased review of factors driving organizational health and operational results. The interim executive does not waste time or company resources trying to secure a full time job, but is driven by the opportunity to make changes which lead to a sustainable value increase for all the stakeholders of the business. The client and their customers can expect immediate improvement in delivery, quality, and cost while a search is conducted to fill the permanent position.
Nearly every one of us has experienced leadership transitions that could be described as “good,” “bad,” or “ugly.” And the percentages of disastrous transitions are astoundingly high. As Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay says, “Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” So what else should we expect but to experience our share of bad leadership transitions?
What I want to share here are a few of the complexities that make leadership transitions difficult and, more importantly, how to prevent these ugly transitions from happening to you.
Today companies operate in a complex global economy which is more diverse, connected by the Internet, and not very predictable. Many companies still pursue classic business approaches (inside-the-box thinking) with a focus on short-term results. Failure to focus on business improvement and adapting to the new business environment can cause many issues and eventually lead to delisting from a stock exchange, bankruptcy, or liquidation. How many of 1960’s “Fortune 500” companies still exist today?
Over the years I’ve encountered far too many business owners who profess comfort with their current levels of revenue, service, culture and rightful place in society. When asked about growth plans, they offer some variation of the line “If I had any more business, I would lose the capability to service my existing business.”
I call that business situation, Stasis. Some of the definitions in Webster are:
• a state of static balance or equilibrium : stagnation
• a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change occurs
Experts like interims are in demand, and not always by clients who are acting with integrity. How do you spot corruption before taking the gig?
And once inside the company, how do you make sure everyone’s playing with integrity, and that partners and vendors are likewise? Poor leaders ignore corruption at their peril, and the toll corruption takes is incalculable. There are the obvious effects: theft of resources, injury to a company’s reputation, and, in a worst case scenario, even federal indictments. Maribeth Vander Weele, president of the Vander Weele Group, a corporate investigations firm that specializes in preventing and investigating complex fraud schemes, says less obvious is the toll that internal corruption takes on a company’s effectiveness. “Time and time again, when our team looks beneath the covers of bad decision-making, we see some form of corruption as the source.” In the webinar, Vander Weele presented red flags that must catch the eye of the interim executive. Vander Weele also spelled out ways to avoid corruption, and actions that must be taken once it is identified.
First-year Change Agent members have access to the Interim Institute’s 4 hour audio program on the Fundamentals of Interim Management, and a one-hour strategy session to help jumpstart their interim career.
*$200 additional charge for Accelerator Program only applies for first-year members. After the first year, membership renews at $485/year.
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